How To Play

Learn how to play poker in minutes with our guide to the basics

How Do Poker Tournaments Work?

Poker tournaments online are hugely popular, and a great way either to learn the game or take on a challenge at the highest levels. For a fixed buy-in, you can play poker knowing that that’s all it will cost – and a deep run in a large event can turn a small investment into a big win.

In tournament poker, every player buys in for a set amount, and receives the same number of chips at the start.  The difference between tournaments and cash games is that these chips have no cash value, and you can’t jump in and out – tournaments play down to an overall winner as players get eliminated along the way.  
In cash games, blinds are fixed, while in tournaments, they get bigger as the tournament progresses. This keeps the action going while players’ stacks get larger as they absorb the eliminated players’ chips.

Prize money is awarded to players who reach the top finishing positions, depending on the structure of the tournament.  The prize pool will usually be distributed between the top 10-30% of the field, with prize amounts increasing as the tournament progresses.  Full information on each tournament’s total prize pool and distribution of prize money is available in the lobby.

Satellites are special tournaments in which the prizes are fixed amount entries into a goal tournament (or later stage satellite).  In satellites, the available prize pool is divided up into ticket amounts, with any prize money left over that is not enough for a ticket awarded to the player finishing one place outside of the ticket-awarding spots.

Tournament Rules

Entrance Fees – Entrance fees are shown in the lobby next to the buy-in of a tournament.  For example, a $100 + $10 tournament will put $100 of your buy-in towards the prize pool, and $10 is the entrance fee.

Late Registration – There is usually a period after a tournament has started (shown in the tournament info) during which you can still buy in and join the game.  After this period ends, no new players can join, and the tournament plays down to a winner.

Seating – Players are seated randomly with their starting stack when a tournament starts.  As new players join during late registration, new tables are created, and players may be moved to balance the numbers on each table.  As players bust out, the tournament condenses and tables are “broken”, which again involves some players being moved to new seats as necessary.

Absent Players – All players must be dealt into every hand.  Any blinds or antes are posted automatically for players who are sat out (away or disconnected) and their hand is folded when action comes to them.

Tournament Speeds and Structures – There are a variety of structures and speeds of tournaments available.  Tournaments can take a while to play out – especially for those who run deep! We provide options for players who want to experience the fun and excitement of tournament poker without the major time commitment as well as those who prefer a slower clock (speed at which the blinds rise). In the lobby, you’ll find these types of tournaments (slowest to fastest):

  • Slow
  • Regular
  • Turbo
  • Hyper Turbo


Tournament Types – There are twists on tournament format as well as structure.  Bounty or Knockout (KO) and Progressive Bounty (PKO) tournaments place a portion of every player’s buy-in as a bounty on their head.  You win bounties when you eliminate another player (KO  tournaments), and in PKO tournaments, part of the busted player’s bounty is added to your own, and part won as prize money immediately.  

Tournaments can be played in no limit hold’em, short deck or Omaha variants, with varying numbers of players at a table, from heads up (one on one, with the winning player progressing to the next round until there’s an eventual overall winner) to 9 handed. 6-Max is a popular short-handed tournament format where tables are six-handed.  

Hand-for-hand Play – In tournaments with fields over 100, hand-for-hand play is introduced as the money bubble approaches (the bubble is the last finishing position not to receive a portion of the prize money).  This means that one hand at a time is dealt on all tables, then play is paused until every table has completed that hand.  

Simultaneous Eliminations – If two players bust out in the same hand, the player with the higher number of chips at the start of the hand will be recorded as finishing in the higher position.

Heads Up Blinds – When a tournament gets to the heads up stage (two players remaining), the button posts the small blind and acts first in the initial betting round.

Timebank and Disconnection Timer – On your turn, a pre-set shot clock – the time allowed for action – is activated.  Once this expires, there’s a longer timebank that you can choose to activate.  Once the player-activated timebank runs out, your hand will be folded.  The extended timebank can have time added at different stages of a tournament, depending on its structure.  There is also a disconnect timebank which automatically starts when the system recognizes that you have been disconnected.  When it runs out, your hand is folded and you are placed on auto-fold.

Synchronised Breaks – Most tournaments will have breaks at the same time, once an hour, at XX:55.

Multiple Flights – In multi-flight events (leading to a Final Day), you can enter more than one flight.  If you make it through more than one flight, you will usually take your “best stack forward” i.e. the highest finishing stack from your qualifying flights will be the one you start with in the next stage.



Online Poker Tournaments

WPT Global explains how poker tournaments work, offering insights into the structure and rewards of competitive play.

There are various types of poker tournaments, including freezeout tournaments (where players are eliminated once they lose all their chips), rebuy tournaments (where players can buy back in if they lose their chips within a certain time frame), shootout tournaments (where players advance to the next round by winning at their table), and satellite tournaments (where players compete for entry into larger, more expensive tournaments).

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For a detailed guide on tournament play and strategies, visit our poker tournaments page.